Namhae (남해), the 5th largest island in South Korea, in my opinion, is one of the destinations in the country that is, unfortunately, less travelled by foreigners. This gorgeous island also called the “Treasure Island of South Korea”, is famed for its majestic mountains, beautiful sea, spectacular coastal drives and unique attractions.
I visited Namhae in winter. It was off-season, but the experience was lovely! The temperature in December at Namhae was around 5-15 Celcius degree, which was considered very warm and comfortable by South Korean standards. And the attractions weren’t packed with visitors, so it was a plus point.
Transportation From Seoul To Namhae: The most straightforward way of transport is by bus. We took a bus from Nambu Bus Terminal in Seoul. The ride is about 5 hours and you'll arrive at Namhae Bus Terminal. The only stopover of the entire journey is at Daejeon Bus Terminal for about 15-20 mins, so please take note. We hire a private taxi (Korean speaking) to bring us around in Namhae which cost KRW 150,000 for a full day tour (8 Hours). This would cover 6-7 places, depending on how you arrange your itinerary.
One of the must-sees in Namhae is to visit the Boriam Temple or Boriam Hermitage (보리암) nestled at the top of Mount Geumsan. It is one of the most prestigious Buddhist temples in Korea, and one of the country’s three largest Gwanseeum-bosal (Guanyin) sacred sites. Boriam Temple is also one of the “12 Most Scenic Spots in the Southern area of South Korea”. And it is located right beside a hidden mountain lodge that has become an internet sensation due to its beautiful outdoor dining space.
There are various accesses to the temple. As it is located within Mount Geumsan, you can hike different paths leading up the mountain to get to the temple. While the paths are filled with steep stairs and rocks, you can enjoy the serene surroundings of the mountain. Another option is to drive by car to Boriam Temple’s carpark and do a 20-25 minutes hike to the temple, which was what we did.
While most of the roads that lead up to the summit at Boriam Temple are well constructed, it can be really steep in some sections, especially for those who don’t exercise much. There are also some benches and huge rocks along the paths so you can take a break whenever you need one, and the scenery at some of the resting areas is stunningly beautiful too!
You will know you’re arriving at the temple when you see this small store that sells souvenirs, booklets, snacks and drinks. There is also a public WC should you need to use them. The temple is behind this souvenir shop!
Overlooking the emerald sea, the temple was founded in 683 A.D. by the leading monk, Wonhyo Daesa. He lived in this temple near the end of his life in complete solitude and away from all worldly pleasures.
As the temple is within Mount Geumsan, a mountain located in Hallyeohaesang National Park (한려해상국립공원 閑麗海上國立公園), it is literally a Buddist temple hidden in the clouds. It is also known as one of the most prestigious prayer spots in Korea for the worship of Guanyin, as it’s reputed that the temple is one of five sites where Guanyin is supposed to dwell in Korea. There is also a legend that visitors to the temple will be granted one wish, so remember to make a heartfelt prayer here!
The temple complex has two sections. Most of the buildings are in the upper section, and in the lower section, you can find a tall, slender statue dedicated to the Guanyin, the Buddha of Mercy, alongside a three-story stone pagoda which is of great historical importance.
The temple is surrounded by beautiful sceneries all year round, and is also famous for its fabulous sunrises too!
Hidden Mountain Lodge: Geumsan Sanjang
Another highlight of visiting Boriam Temple is visiting this hidden mountain lodge called “Geumsan Sanjang” (금산산장) behind the temple. Perched on the mountain top overlooking the sea, this little mountain lodge has a pretty impressive outdoor dining area that makes eating instant noodles here one of the must-do in Namhae!
Don’t get fooled by the 0.26KM distance from the temple, the lodge is actually quite hidden — I believe it was because we accidentally took a more complicated path and ended up climbing the rocky mountains with an almost broken shoe sole. But it was fun and well worth the climb!
The mountain trail that we accidentally turned into was quite steep. Some sections comprise rocky stones that required some climbing actions and we were dressed in jeans. I bet we looked ridiculous to some hikers but we marched on in our non-stretchable jeans and in my almost worn-out shoes anyway.
It was a taxing journey and I had to take a break halfway. But the surroundings in the mountain were beautiful and peaceful and I nearly doze off because it was cooling and very comfortable in the resting area!
After a short break, we continue a few minutes hike in the forest and found Geumsan Sanjang. This rather unassuming mountain lodge hidden in the woods is famed for its scenic dining area that feels like you’re dining in the clouds!
As it was off-season, there weren’t a lot of visitors at the lodge. If you’re also visiting during off-peak, you can first ‘chop’ a seat while having your travel partner go to the back of the lodge to order some food. The mountain lodge only sells Ramyeon cup noodles, Seafood Pancake (Haemul Pajeon 해물파전), Buckwheat Kimchi Pancake (Maemil Kimchi Jeonbyeong 메밀 김치 전병), Vegetarian Fried Rice (Namul Bokkeumbap 나물 볶음밥) and Grilled Eggs (Gu-un Gaeran 구운계란) as well as some canned drinks.
It has also ceased selling its famous Makgeolli (rice wine) which is brewed with the nearby spring water due to the new safety law in Korea.
There at the lodge, you can order your food from an old grandma. I don’t think she speaks English but you shouldn’t have problems ordering using hand gestures as the menu is very simple. As we wanted to try out Myeolchi Ssambab (멸치쌈밥), Namhae’s speciality anchovy dish right after visiting Boriam Temple, we only ordered one instant noodle and a drink to share — the experience was out of the world.
Although it was a hazy winter day, the sunlight was warm and beautiful. Eating piping hot Korean instant noodles in a 12-celsius degree winter weather while gazing upon the panoramic view of Namhae Island and the ocean was whimsical and surreal.
Writer’s Note: If you are planning your Namhae trip, Boriam Temple and Geumsan Sanjang should definitely be on your itinerary. You can do a simple hike to the temple by arriving at the carpark using a normal taxi service before sunrise, take a tour around the temple after sunrise and enjoy your breakfast at Geumsan Sanjang.
While I felt a little disappointed as we couldn’t try the seafood and kimchi pancake at the lodge due to our schedule, dining at Geumsan Sanjang is something not to be missed if you’re visiting this beautiful temple! As this place is really popular, do remember to clean up the table and return your tray once you’ve done so that the next visitor can enjoy the place as much as you did.
#Tip: If you are engaging a private taxi tour service, you can first visit Boriam Temple & Geumsan Sanjang, before calling your pre-booked private tour guide and asked to be picked up at Boriam Temple car park, so that your 8 hours private tour would start & end on a normal timing!
Boriam Temple 보리암
665 Boriam-ro, Sangju-myeon, Namhae-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea
경상남도 남해군 상주면 보리암로 665
Operating Hours: 3:30am – 9pm daily.
Geumsan Sanjang 금산 산장
691 Boriam-ro, Sangju-myeon, Namhae-gun, Gyeongsangnam-do, South Korea
경상남도 남해군 상주면 보리암로 691
Operating Hours: 7am – 5pm daily.